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Last week, Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen made a play for media attention
by calling the NBA's minimum-age requirement a "vestige of slavery." Pete took Cohen to task, properly pointing out that his grandstanding flew in the face of logic considering the rule was negotiated into contract by the NBA's largely black union. But lost amid Cohen's uncomfortable choice of analogy is the fact that many people agree with him.
As pointed out by sports blog Deadspin
, the rule requiring NBA players to spend at least a year in college has been much maligned by coaches, players, economists and insufferable jock-sniffers (read: Dick Vitale). Now added to the list are lawyers. Specifically, New York employment lawyer Louis Pechman
, who thinks the rule might violate state law:
Surprisingly lost in the discussion about whether age limits are appropriate for the NBA draft is the fact that many state laws prohibit employment discrimination against individuals who are eighteen or over. As playing in the NBA is employment -- albeit a dream job -- eighteen year olds are deprived of their potential employment and are thus victims of age discrimination. In New York, for example, the New York State Human Rights Law prohibits employers from refusing to hire or employ an "individual eighteen years of age or older... because of such individual's age." The NBA, and its players' union, are subject to compliance with all New York employment laws, as well as other state laws which prohibit discrimination based on age.
Not knowing a damn thing about employment law, Pith made a bounce pass to Allen Crone of Crone & Mason in Memphis, who gave us some unexpected good news about our state...
Turns out, Tennessee has a human rights act which mirrors most of the federal guidelines. But we also have a couple of additional
protections not covered by all states. (Shhhh, don't tell the legislature.) Crone says that puts us in the "top 20%" in the country, which is, well, awesome, to say the least.
As to whether or not the NBA is violating state law, Crone says that's a mixed bag. In a pension case a couple years ago, the Supreme Court upheld that the Federal Age and Discrimination Act allowed for provisions that discriminate in favor of older workers. Everything else, says Crone, is category neutral; there's no leeway when it comes to race and gender. But the ADA can work both ways, both favoring older workers and working against them.
(Take the airline industry as an example. Because common sense -- and statistics -- show that the elderly aren't the best drivers, let alone fliers of planes, the airlines are able to force pilots into retirement by age 65.)
Crone says we may hear more about NBA age discrimination in the future if a player decides to challenge the law in court, a la Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett. But Crone doesn't expect that challenge to come from the home of the Memphis Grizzlies.
"As a lawyer always looking to weigh evidence," he says, "I've found very little to suggest that Tennessee has a professional basketball team."